Defining Poetry (MLA Research Paper)


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Rana 1

Rana Sampang, A. K.
Dr. Thornton
English 1302
January 07, 2013
Defining Poetry
             Poetry can be defined as a literary work with a quality of beauty and intensity of emotion in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm. It can be the medium of spiritual and philosophical expression, or the medium of expression people use when they speak from the heart. While defining poetry, it may seems easier, but it is not so easy to define what is poetry (what it is not) because other genres of literature are also the medium of expression people use to express their feelings, and ideas. In a journal Mr. Ribeiro wrote, “Robert Pierce says: “What the term ‘poetry’ refers to is a group of publicly visible things in the social world that we call ‘poems’.” ...Hence all we can do is to see what these things are and learn to use the term on the basis of how newly encountered texts resemble them...” (Ribeiro 189). There are two most important ways to define poetry: First is to examine how it is different from other forms of literature, and second is to examine our assumption about it (Kirszner & Mandell 349). Poetry should be considered as a beautiful aspect of literature because it is the art or craft of writing verse, literature in metric form or distinctive style, and beautiful-qualitative expression of ideas, spirit, or feelings in word.
                    The exact origin of poetry is not known, but it is believed that the history of poetry begins with the oral tradition as the history of all literature begins(Kirszner & Mandell 346). In a time before literacy and the printing press, the oral tradition was relied for the preservation of stories, histories, values, and beliefs, which were put into forms of poems easier to memorize (LIT 346). This indicates that poetry was practiced as an art of memorizing and remembering things in beautiful rhyming poems.
                  Poetry is in practice since the origin of wisdom in human-kind, in all most all eras, in every aspects of life; religion, customs, business, politics, education, etc. As we go through history of poetry, poetic works starting from the Vedas (1700 - 1200 BCE) to the Odyssey (800 - 675 BCE) are seemed to be found in prehistoric and ancient societies as the earliest poetry (Kirszner 346). In ancient China and Japan, poetry was regarded above all else. Here is one story tells of a samurai warrior who, when defeated, asked for a pen and paper. Thinking that he wanted to write a will before being executed, his captor granted his wish. Instead of writing a will, however, the warrior wrote a farewell poem that so moved his captor that he immediately released him (Mandell 349). This story shows how powerful was the poem which grant the writer a new life. Hence it can be said poetry is an art or craft of writing verse which can move the feelings, and motivation of the readers, and listeners, or beholders.
                   In the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Rebeiro writes that Jerrold Levinson’s proposal is that we define art on the basis of the intentions of an agent as these relate to the history of art itself, that is, to preceding artworks. For the object of a creative or proffering act to constitute art, its agent must intend the object of that act to be regarded in the ways that previous artworks were correctly regarded. Levinson’s intentional-historical definition carries over fruitfully from a theory of art in general to a theory of poetry in particular. “To be a poem is to be a verbal object intended by its writer or discoverer for membership in the poetic tradition or, in other words, in the category ‘poetry’”(Rebeiro 190). The first difference to notice is that the intention in the case of poetry moves away from the regards of art appreciators back to the artworks themselves. To count as a poetic intention, then, an intention of agent must somehow relate to that rich and vast tradition. A work of poet must be intentionally connected to preceding poems in order for it to be a poem as well.
                 In an article, Sidney's Two Definitions of Poetry, Cornell March Dowlin restates and operates the two, similar but not identical, Sidney's definitions of Poetry. The first, which is frequently said to be the definition, is the familiar: “Poesie therefore is an arte of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in his word Mimesis, that is to say, a representing, counterfetting, or figuring foorth: to speake metaphorically, a speaking picture: with this end, to teach and delight”(Dowlin 573). This definition is followed by the division of poetry into various kinds: religious, which imitates the inconceivable excellencies of God; philosophical, and the work of the right Poets. “The distinction between philosophical poetry, which copies, and poetry that does not, leads to the comment that verse is “but an ornament and no cause to Poetry,” and this in turn to the second, more explicit, definition: “But Poetry is that fayning notable images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that delightful teaching, which must be the right describing note to know a Poet by.” Feigning and invention, the forming of images or patterns of perfection,...”(Dowlin 574). From the formal statements of Sidney, it will be more clear that the poetry is art of imitation, and also art or act of delightful teaching.
“…..
Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the white hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.
..” (Khayyam 28)
                This Rubai (plural form is Rubaiyat) poetry other Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (later half of eleventh-early quarter twelfth century (Manis 4)) was popular during his age, and is still popular in the world. Rubaiyat was popular before Omar Khayyam wrote and make them more popular during his time(Sampang 30). This is because the poem includes many of the characteristics that the readers commonly associate with poetry. For instance, the lines of poem have a regular pattern of rhyme (A A B A) and meter that identifies it as a rubai. In the poem, a complex network of related images and figures of speech are developed, that compare the changes with change in time. This is really a beautiful aspect of literature in metric form and distinctive style. Followings are the important elements of Poetry, especially poetry in metric forms:
  • Forms: It is the first and most important element of poetry that distinguishes from other genres.
  • Sound: To create a sense of rhythm and melody, sound of the words themselves, alone and in conjunction are used with the other words of the poem. Alliteration, assonance, consonance, and rhyme are commonly used to create the music of a poem.
  • Imagery and Figurative language: In poems, imagery words or phrases, that describe the senses, are used more likely than in other genres of literature. To convey the ideas of poets, and to help their readers access these ideas, they extensively use figurative language, including metaphors and similes (LIT 349).
Types of Poetry:
A. Types of Poem according to ways of expression:
Most poems are either narrative poems, which recount a story or lyric poems, which communicates a speakers mood, feelings, or state of mind” (LIT 357).
a.) Narrative Poetry: It is a poetic art of story-telling; the forward-moving recounting of episode and description.
  • Epics: The language of epic poems tends to be formal, even elevated, and often quite elaborate. They are narrative poems that recount the accomplishments of heroic figures, typically including expansive settings, superhuman feats,and god (LIT 351). Some of the examples of written literary epics are John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott's Omeros (1990), and author (A. K. Rana Sampang)'s own short epic on Nepali Rubaiyat, The Last Letter (Antim Patra) (2009).
  • Ballad: It is another type of narrative poem, rooted in an oral tradition, usually arranged in quatrains rhyming abcb and containing a refrain. Similarly ballad stanza is the stanza that alternates lines of eight and six syllables. Typically, only the second and fourth lines rhyme.
b.) Lyric Poetry: There are various types of lyric poetry: elegy- poem commemorating someone's death, usually in a mournful tone, ode- relatively long poem, common in antiquity and adapted by Romantic poets, for whom it was a serious poem of formal diction, aubade- poem about morning, usually celebrating the dawn, meditation- lyric poem that focuses on a physical object using the object as a vehicle for considering larger issues, pastoral- literary work that deals nostalgically and usually unrealistically with a simple, pre-industrial rural life; the name come from the fact that pastorals traditionally feature shepherds (LIT 352).
c.) Dramatic Poetry: This includes the poems whose speaker addresses one or more silent listeners, often revealing much more than he or she intends. Examples of dramatic monologue are Robert Browning's “My Last Duchess” (365), and “Porphyria's Lover” (375) (LIT 352).
B. Types of Poem according to the forms/style used:
  • Sonnet
  • Villanelle
  • Rubaiyat
  • Gajal
  • Haiku
  • Tanka
  • Prose Poem
  • And many more...
                     These aforesaid types of poems all uses some types of poetic form, and are popular because of their appealing forms and distinctive styles. Therefore, from the above types of poems and examples, it can be said that poetry is a beautiful-qualitative aspect of literature because of the distinctive styles and the forms used by the poets.
                  On another context, it is difficult to define poetry in comparison with other genres of literature, as it has no any specific mandatory requirement to be defined. It is also difficult to define poetry because of the different styles used by the poet to convey and express their feelings and ideas. Here, let’s take two different poems of William Shakespeare and E. E. Cummings, which are as follows. First one is a sonnet of William Shakespeare:
“That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang…..
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.” (LIT 350).
              This is a sonnet which could be identified by it’s form as it’s lines have a regular pattern of rhyme and meter. It also develops a complex network of related images and figure of speech that compare the lost youth of the aging speaker to the sunset and autumn. Hence sonnet can be classify as a poem. Now let’s see another poetic creation; “l(a” of Cummings.
“l(a
le
af
fa
ll
s)
one
l
iness” (LIT 351)
                This creation does not seem to have any of the characteristics normally associated with poetry. It has no meter, rhyme, imagery, figures of speech, or any repetition of sound. It can’t be read aloud because of its fragments, though it communicates a conventional poetic theme. When the broke words are reconstructed, it appears as “l(a leaf falls) one l iness”, which is a complex visual and verbal pun. If the parenthetical insertion “(a leaf falls)” is removed, the remaining letters spell “loneliness” (LIT 351). In this poem the poet uses an image of a leaf to express his ideas about life and human experience.
From the above poems of Shakespeare and Cummings, it makes difficult to define exactly what a poem is (and what it is not). Poems can rhyme or not rhyme, can have a distinct form, or can flow freely without any discern-able form. As a form, poetry is compact and concise, and choosing the right words to convey ideas is a challenge. As a literary genre, it offers room for experimentation while at the same time remaining firmly grounded in a literary tradition that stretches back through time to antiquity.

"...While trying to find the definition of 'Poetry';
I started from myself back to history,
From recent 'Spoken word', Hip-hop and rap to Slam,
Then Black Arts Movement,
Then Confessional poems,
Then Beat Poets, and the Black Mountain Poets,
Then Harlem Renaissance, and Imagism,
Then Modernism, Romanticism, Metaphysical poets,
Then Renaissance and Shakespearean, Persian, Anglo-Saxon Era,
Then Religious and Early Epics (Including Vedas, Upanishads, Songs of Solomon, and the Koran),
And finally to oral tradition.
And I reversed from ancient oral tradition to 'spoken word'.
I discovered the evolution of poetry has went back to the origin of oral tradition 
Indicating the end of poetry as
The Post-modernism in Arts is exhibiting fusion, and the end of Art.
So now, what will be the definition of Poetry,
I'm undefined. ..."  (Rai Class Presentation)
            Let us again go back to history of poetry; To the ancient Greeks and Romans, poetry was the medium of spiritual and philosophical expression (LIT 348). Today also poetry is a medium of expression people use when they speak from the heart. Throughout the world it has continued to delight and to inspire. Therefore, it is an art of beautiful and qualitative expression of ideas, spirit, or feelings in word. Any body can say, if he or she looked from history to this present, that the poetry is a beautiful-qualitative medium of expressing someone's (poet's) feelings, ideas, or spirit.
               Hence, as a conclusion it would be justifiable to consider the Poetry as a beautiful-qualitative aspect of literature because it is a beautiful art of writing verse, literature in metric forms and distinctive styles, and a beautiful-qualitative expression of feelings, spirit, or ideas. Therefore, it can be defined as a literary work with a quality of beauty and intensity of emotion in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.






Works Cited
Cummings, E. E. “l(a” (1923). Laure Kirszner & Stephan R. Mandell. LIT. Student Edition. ©2012. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Dowlin, Cornell March. “Sidney's Two Definitions of Poetry”. Modern Language Quarterly. Dec42. Vol. 3 Issue 4. 573-581. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
Khayyam, Omar, Edward Fitzgerald & Jim Manis. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Copyright © 2000 The Pennsylvania State University. A Penn State Electronic Classics Series Publication. Web. 2 January 2013.
Kirszner, Laure G. & Stephan R. Mandell. “Understanding Poetry/Identify the Origins of Modern Poetry.” LIT. Student Edition. © 2012, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Rai, Ashok K. "Defining Poetry". Class Presentation. English 1302. Dr. Thornton. Wintersmester. Tarrant County College. Fort Worth, TX. USA. 02 Jan. 2013.
Ribeiro, Anna Christina. "Intending To Repeat: A Definition Of Poetry." Journal Of Aesthetics & Art Criticism 65.2 (2007): 189-201. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
Sampang, Rana A. K. “Maile Bhannaiparda (About Rubaiyat)”. 29-30. Antim Patra (The Last Letter). 2009. © Rubaiyat Writer.
Shakespeare, William. “That time of year thou mayst in me behold.” Laure Kirszner & Stephan R. Mandell. LIT. Student Edition. © 2012. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Sidney, Philip, Sir. “Two Identical Definitions of poetry”. Apology for Poetry. Dowlin, Cornell March. “Sidney's Two Definitions of Poetry”. Modern Language Quarterly. Dec42. Vol. 3 Issue 4. 573-581. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.


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